Friday, February 26, 2010

Why The Superintendent Firing All the Teachers in One School Should Be Ashamed Of Themselves...and Maybe Have To Wear a Scarlet D for Douche

This whole "firing every teacher because we don't have the balls to dig into the larger problem and this seems like the easiest thing to do" business is totally ruining my office supply buzz.

In fact, I just read through a bunch of articles and watched a series of interviews that were so maddening that I basically yelled all my points at Mr. Mimi (He is SUCH a trooper....spouses of teachers deserve medals.) for the last thirty minutes when all the man was doing was trying to make dinner for us so I could write this post.  (So maybe a medal and some prize money...)  Even Mini Mimi is kicking up a storm in solidarity for teachers as I think about this issue.  Go baby!

Holy crap, I don't even know where to begin.  There are so many parts to this puzzle that are being conveniently ignored.  You all, in your infinite wisdom, have made some fantastic eomments about this issue on my Facebook fanpage.

I mean, how can these ass hats seriously fire all the teachers with a straight face and a clear conscience while conveniently ignoring the fact that the school is PLAGUED BY POVERTY.  I guess you can't fire poverty, but you certainly shouldn't IGNORE IT ALL TOGETHER IN A DESPERATE DISPLAY OF DEMONIZING AND FINGER POINTING.  I was watching an interview on CNN (the Anderson Cooper one...just scroll down) where this douche just dismissed poverty with a, "well, you can't do anything about that."

Really?

Cuz I know it's a tough mountain to climb to, you know, end poverty, but to ME, saying that we "can't really do anything about poverty" is just about as pathetic, sad and depressing as saying, "well, we can't do anything about this school, so let's just fire all the teachers Donald Trump style." (Bad hair and power tie not necessarily included.)

And some of the biggest arguments in favor of firing the teachers make me want to poke my eyes out with hot pokers (or poke them with hot pokers after requiring them to try to DO WHAT WE DO EVERYDAY for just one day).  My mind is racing (and pregnant which translates to being unable to hold onto an intelligent thought for more than 2.5 seconds...just about the length of time before I need to pee again really), so let's take this argument by argument, shall we?

There is a low rate of academic success among the students at this particular school.  (insert deep breathing here) Okay.  First of all, can we just give a shout out to the bullshit that is standardized testing being used as the only measurement of student achievement?  I mean, that's a whole post in and of itself.  Second of all, what curriculums are being utilized? How much freedom to teachers actually  have to teach in ways they believe in?  Or are we telling them exactly how to do their jobs, providing them with sub-standard resources and then getting pissed when it doesn't come out all rosy?

Call me crazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that with five principals in six years that the whole school culture is not a walk in the park for teachers working there day after day and year after year.  Are the administrators who mandate the use of certain curricula getting fired?  Are they being held accountable to provide teachers with meaningful professional development?

And again - these kids are LIVING IN POVERTY.  These friends are probably coming to school hungry, dealing with ridiculous home lives, perhaps even working a job to try and help their families and we're surprised when they don't ace their math quiz?????   And I hate to hate on people who are already struggling, but what about their parents?  WHAT ABOUT THEIR ROLE IN THEIR CHILD'S EDUCATION?

It just seems to me that a lot of people (administrators, policy makers, parents, etc) want to put in their two freaking cents when it comes to telling us how to do our jobs but then want to take no responsibility whatsoever when shit hits the educational fan.  I'm just sayin....if you can't take the heat, THEN LEAVE US ALONE AND LET US DO OUR JOBS!

Am I going to blindly stick up for every single one of those teachers?  I hate to say it, but the answer is no. I'm sure there are teachers in that building who suck. Just like there are workers in every job in every industry everywhere who are sub par weak links who everyone talks about but no one does anything about.  Now I know it's hard to fire a teacher, and I don't even want to get started on a debate about tenure (need to keep the old heart rate under 140 for my little friend here), but it IS possible.  There IS  a process to do that when a teacher demonstrates an inability to be effective in the classroom.  Where are the fingers pointing at the transient administration who failed to follow this explicit process?  I mean, I recently wrote about the teacher evaluation process in which numerous times I witnessed administrators never actually pay attention to my lesson and then write up a report on the wrong subject...

So we're completely comfortable in ignoring the failure of this process and these individuals but have arbitrarily decided to pin 100% of the blame on teachers? 

Teachers are being unreasonable when they asked for more money for additional work.  I guess the school system wanted teachers to eat with the children (To increase instructional time?  Make the nauseous?  Increase aspirin consumption and therefore boost sales?), add minutes onto their insturctional day, spend time outside of school tutoring students and attend weekly 90 minute meeting.  Can you please show me another profession in which people are asked to work more hours, take on greater responsibility and take on some seriously ridiculous odds for no extra money?  It is also clear to me that the people suggesting this have never actually eaten in a school cafeteria.  And to them I say, "Friend, shit ain't gettin' done at lunch.  Those kids need a break!!!"

They keep pointing out the salaries of the teachers, saying that they make $72,000 a year, which judging by the facial expressions of the finger pointers, sounds ridiculous to them.  They make arguments such as "teachers are putting their salaries ahead of the needs of the kids."

Um, I'm sorry, but did I miss the word VOLUNTEER somewhere in my job description?  Why do people think it okay to play the altruism card here?  Because if "good intentions" were the only requirement for this job, we'd all be screwed.  Maybe teachers should have demanded payment in sunshine and rainbows...there might be some of that to spare.

I'm going to stop there for now because blogs are supposed to be short and this is anything but short.  However, I am planning on continuing this discussion and would LOVE to hear what you all think.

Until then, my friends and loyal readers, get yourself a cocktail and pour a little out in honor of our peeps in Rhode Island.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh Manilla Folders...How Do I Love Thee?

Today friends, we are going to count the ways.

First, a small photo montage (click for links) to celebrate you in all your fabulousness.

From the very simple

Pendaflex Pendaflex Essentials File Folders, 1/3 Cut, Top Tab, Letter, Manila, 100 Per Box, (752 1/3)Pendaflex Ready-Tab File Folders, 1/3 Cut, Top Tab, Letter Size, Manila, 50 per Box (42336)

To the wonderfully bedazzled

Stripes Designer File FoldersWallpaper Designer File FoldersTulipa Designer File FoldersWallpaper Drops Designer File FoldersThomas Paul File Folders, 11.75 x 9.5 Inches, Aqua, 9 Folders of 3 Coordinating Designs (35672)Thomas Paul File Folders, 11.75 x 9.5 Inches, Red, 9 folders of 3 Coordinating Designs (35674)Thomas Paul File Folders, 11.75 x 9.5 Inches, Black and White, 9 Folders of 3 Coordinating Designs (35698)

To the stylishly practical

Limbo File Folders - In, Out, Limbo - Set of 3 by Bob's Your Uncle

Is everyone else smiling?

Now, on to the ideas...the ideas...SO MANY IDEAS!!

In my classroom, I was partial to the standard (yet simply elegant) manilla file folder.  (I save the decadence of the fancy pants folders for my own personal use...call me selfish.)  I used these file folders for absolutely everything.

Clearly, some of the most obvious uses include, well, filing things and using them as regular folders.  I will not state the obvious.  I am sure you are all dutifully filing away in your classrooms already.  (Although just thinking about all that filing and organizing gives me goose bumps!)

Here are some of the other ways I used these gems:

* As personal dictionaries.  I created four pages with spaces for words under every letter of the alphabet to staple inside the folders (roughly 6-8 letters per page depending on the popularity of the letter....poor X got fairly shafted space wise).  On the front, I glued a page with all our sight words just for some extra practice.  And viola!  Children added new spelling words, vocabulary words, words of interest as they encountered them.  They (voluntarily I might add) used their dictionaries throughout the day (reading, writing, social studies, science...you name it!)

*As table-tent Word Walls.  Yes, our sight words were posted at the front of the classroom, but that didn't mean that everyone turned their little heads and actually looked at them.  SOOOO...I put thirteen letters on each side and filled in our words of the week (a.k.a. sight words) on each table tent as they were introduced.  Sounds like a lot of work - totally wasn't.  My friends popped these suckers up on their tables during writing and all of a sudden - no more excuses for misspelled words.

*As table-sized strategy charts. Strategy charts are all the rage these days.  Whether we're reminding our friends the different ways they can utilize a non-fiction text, walking them through the writing process or guiding them through a math problem...WE HEART THE CHART!  I'm sure they are hanging around your room in all their glory HOWEVER imagine having them right smack in front of your friends faces!  Simply copy your fabulous chart on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, glue and you've got it.

*As table tent center directions.  Why kill yourself explaining a center each time a group uses it?  Instead, print the directions out, glue them to a folder, slide it into your Ziplock bag for that center and you're done.

* As signs around the classroom.  We all know that using cardstock = longer lasting signs. I used to use manilla folders to make signs for each table of students, staple the folder to a piece of yarn and hang it from my lights.  My Super Colleague would staple the folder around a hanger and do the same thing.  I've also seen teachers use this strategy to hang signs over various centers or areas of their classroom to label them.  Any way you slice it - it's awesome.

* As covers for particularly fabulous writing.  About once a month, we celebrated our writing which meant agonizing hours creating covers.  Enter the file folder.  Sturdy, plain enough to draw on and already folded perfectly in half - it was a life saver.  Just cut off the little tabby thing and you're good to go.

Those are just a few ideas.  Perhaps you're rolling your eyes and thinking, "Uh, all of these ideas are so obvi." Perhaps you're taking copious notes.  Whatever.  But you know what?  It feels good to share.  I'd LOVE it if you shared your ideas, too.

Sharing is caring, friends...sharing is caring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fashionably Late to the Office Supply Party

I'm at the point with my love affair with office supplies, that I now get email alerts when there is a big sale. I know what you're thinking..."this girl needs more to DO!" Well, that's not true, but I probably could spend more time dissertating, reading up on labor, working on my website being productive and less time drooling over sales at Staples or the gorgeous office supplies over at See Jane Work.  But I digress...

PEOPLE!  There is a buy two get one free sale going on at Office Depot!  I know that you thought I was a one office supply store kind of woman, but in this economy, you've got to diversify to save!!  Or at least that's how I rationalize my numerous relationships with numerous office supply vendors.  (Barnsey however, will always be my one and only.)  And I feel it is my duty to inform you of such wonderful-ness.

Here's the link  to the buy two get one free sale. (Stock Up and Save Buy 2 Get 1 Free on Select Supplies )  Friends, they are even including buy two get one free on those big fat packages of sticky notes.  The ones that come with 12 pads - TWELVE PADS!  And I know many of our wallets are bare, however, I also know that many of us are running short on Post It notes because the new trend in education seems to be having children put every thought they have on a Post It note and sticking it in a book.  (I hate to tell the people who are obsessed with this idea that I see it's purpose but HATED dealing with all those stickies all over the classroom.  I mean, the reckless use of Post It notes in my classroom was out of control despite many lectures from you-know-who.)  

The savings don't end there - they also include manilla folders (stay tuned tomorrow when I share with you the many ways that I used these beauties in my classroom - HEART THEM!), pens, paper (I have had to buy my own in the past and it can get pricey...), paper clips and binder clips.  

Am I the only one who kind of feels like singing, "These are a few of my fa-vor-ite things!"

Anybody?  No?

Okay.  Well, go forward and save, my friends!  And don't forget - tomorrow I will rock your manilla folder loving world!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Want To Go To There...

In light of my posts on teacher evaluations and Obama's new plan to improve teacher effectiveness, I just HAD to add this OpEd piece from the New York Times to the mix.  It's about Ms. Kenny, the inspirational woman who has created three insanely popular and successful charter schools - the Harlem Village Academies.

And get this - she's not all about re-creating a static model or obsessing about program offerings.  To me, that says, "I don't do dog-and-pony shows."  How many times have I heard people spout on and on about all their after school offerings, their music programs, their playground facilities and blah blah blah and NEVER ONCE mention the teaching or the teachers.  Not that after school programs, music and playgrounds are important - they are wonderful things that provide wonderful experiences for children.  However, if you have crap teachers and crap teaching, you can have miles of beautiful slides but WHO THE HELL CARES?!  Unless you are considering a future in sliding for your child.  Then, congrats!

Ms. Kenny is focused on recruiting, developing and encouraging great teaching.  She says "If you had an amazing teacher who was talented and passionate and given the freedom and support to teach well, that was just 100 times more important than anything else."

And I die.

Get this.  She's committed to finding great people, establishing a culture that helps them learn, grow and improve, and AND (as if that's not enough) providing them with a community that supports and respects teachers.

Wait...where am I?  What happened?   I think I might have blacked out there for a minute.

It's like she read my mind.  Again, I want to go to there...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Teacher Effectiveness - As Defined By A Bunch of People Who Have Never Taught

It's another news day, friends.  On Friday, I wrote about the INeffectiveness that is the reality of the teacher evaluation process for many of us.  (Unless of course, those evaluations are exercises in judging our ability to a) be patient with administrators, b) correct other people's grammar errors or c) not run screaming from the building despite an unusual amount of duress. Then they are right on target.)

On a related note, I perused this article today.  It's about Obama's plan to stress more competition for teacher grants aimed at improving teacher effectiveness and quality.  (Phew - that's a mouthful!)  (Imagine saying all that if you WEREN'T an educator already immersed in that dialogue and those ideas.) (Wait.  What?  A bunch of people who AREN'T teachers did just that?  You're shitting me...)

This article gives a nice summary of some of Obama's plans for the upcoming fiscal year as they relate to education and issues of teacher quality.  Let's see...here are some highlights ('cuz you know we teachers love us a bullet pointed list):

* $950 million is going to be invested into a Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund that will support competitive grants for finding ways to promote and compensate educators and provide them with an incentive to teach in more challenging school settings.   (Hmmmm...I wonder if a teacher is in charge of this fund...or even present for it's meetings...or maybe sits on some sort of governing board.  My guess is no.  So, I'm wondering how this will play out exactly.)

* $405 million to support various pathways into teaching - including the Teacher Quality Partnerships grant program (which I need to read more about...hey, I don't know it ALL), the Transition to Teaching alternative certification program and Teach for America (about which I have an opinion or two...). Granted, these alternative cert programs would need to compete with one another for funding which would hopefully weed out some of their bulllshit, but whatever.  I'm kind of with the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education when I say that these options severely downplay the importance of colleges for teacher education.  And in my opinion, this only furthers the idea that you don't need to be super smart, just have good intentions, a love of children and a few hours of classroom observation time.  An idea which is offensive and wrong.  (But maybe that's just my thousands of dollars in school loans and impending PhD talking...)

Here's my favorite part of the article.  Mr. Hirsch of the New Teacher Center wonders,

"How do we take these ideas and move them from federal government to state government, to districts and schools, to teachers and into practice?  If we look at it as a game of 'telephone,' there are a lot of places where the messages can get miscommunicated."

Gee, I wonder if a few teachers were up there at the "top", if maybe we wouldn't see things a little differently?  Or maybe, if we admitted that a top down structure (with the government at the top and TEACHERS AT THE BOTTOM) just isn't working....Teachers on top?  Crazy idea...and kind of pornographic sounding, but you get my point.

But the JUICIEST PART of this article lies in the comments.  Oh the comments!  My hat is off to the brave, articulate and teacher-centered souls who wrote in with their thoughts.  To sum it up, they kind of threw a big middle finger at this whole plan by wondering why teachers alone, and their effectiveness, are continuously named as the single biggest problem with America's public schools.

These individuals point out factors such as poverty, emotional issues, drug abuse, and less-than-fabulous parenting.  You know, little stuff like that.

Bravo!!

And if I may throw in my two cents...I think if we are going to start measuring and judging teacher effectiveneness in new ways that are tied into our potential compensation, then methinks it is also time to LET TEACHERS ACTUALLY TEACH INSTEAD OF NUMBING THEIR BRAINS AND SENSE OF POSSIBILITY WITH SCRIPTED, "TEACHER PROOF", "SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN" CURRICULUM.

(Was I yelling?)

Basically, if you want to see how good I am, at least trust me to do my job and allow me the freedom to meet the needs of all my students in the ways that I know are best for them. Stop telling me what to do, how to do it, and when I should be doing it and then blaming me when it doesn't always work every single time.  Because a good teacher in one environment can't be replicated and reproduced across a million contexts like a robot.  The same goes for good teaching.

Mimi out. *throws microphone to the floor and walks away in fabulous high heels*

Friday, February 19, 2010

And In Today's Shocking News - Teacher Evaluations May Not Be All They're Cracked Up To Be

Yowza!

So I'm taking a break from panicking about having a child  having anxiety over my dissertation my morning routine and getting caught up on my education news, when I see this beaut in my inbox, just beckoning me to write about it.  You see the New Teacher Project surveyed a bunch of teachers in the Denver Public School System and came to the conclusion that teacher evaluations don't mirror actual teacher quality.  It may sound shocking at first, but when you think about the quality and depth of most teacher observations, you realize that this sounds about right.

Let's take this article bit by bit, shall we? ANNND GO!

Toward the beginning of the article, the author references another related study done by the NTP.  This study "... concluded that teachers are, in effect, treated like interchangeable parts because good educators get no better evaluations than bad ones.  Teachers rarely get feedback or support and the worst ones are seldom are removed."

Crap!  Where do I even BEGIN when dissecting this baby?

Are we really treated like interchangeable parts?  You know, I don't think we all are.  I have to hope that there are some of you out there who are teaching and feeling valued.  I have to hope that somewhere out there, there is a group of teachers who feel appreciated by their colleagues and administrators because that is the way I believe it should be.  I have to hope that because otherwise, I may just quit it all and go get the application for a job at Papyrus.

Did I ever feel like an interchangeable part?  Sadly, the answer is yes.  While I think I was respected for my work, I was also told many times and in many ways that I, along with all the other teachers at my school, was replaceable.  And while in theory, of course I know that I am replaceable, I hated the notion that I would leave, and they would simply hire someone else and call it a day.  But you know what - that's kind of what happened.  There was no "good bye" from an administrator, no letter of thanks, no thank you at all.  Just a "turn in your key" as I sobbed into my wad of Kleenex.  (And then many, many, beers and a few shared bottles of wine with my Super Colleagues.)

Is it true that good educators are treated no differently than bad ones?  I mean, yes and no.  Yes, in general, we are treated differently by our peers, by parents and by the students.  And no, we aren't treated any differently in that we all have the same job, we all get the same pay, and we all get to call ourselves "teachers" despite the fact that some of us are killing ourselves making up for everyone else's slack while the rest of them get to read the paper, sip coffee and be perpetually unprepared, unprofessional, and decidedly un-fabulous.  Maybe bad teachers have a different take on this, but I doubt they will be a) reading this, b) responding to this or c) working hard.

The article then continues on stating:
"62% of teachers say the evaluation process fails to provide an accurate assessment of performance"

Um, no kidding.  Can I get an article published for stating the obvious?  Let's see, have I ever told you the story about the time that I got observed in math, but then received a feedback report about some reading lesson I had never actually taught? And then I got yelled at for pointing out the mistake?  And got told I was being ridiculous because I wouldn't sign my copy of the observation report?  No? Remind me to tell you that one - it's a doozy.  I know I DID tell you about the time that The Weave suggested I implement a particular chart into my math routine whilst she was sitting in front of said chart at the time, proving that her powers of observation may not be so keen.  I mean, let's be real about most of our observations.  Dog-and-pony show much?

Perhaps this is not the case for all of you (and I hope it's not), but let me just paint a somewhat brief picture of what getting observed can be like if the above link was not enough.

(ahem)

I was told what subject to teach for my observation (instead of getting the opportunity to choose a subject ourselves that we might want guidance or feedback in).
I was told the date and time of my observation, which did not necessarily align with when I regularly taught that particular subject.
I was told to work it out.

I stalled and stalled on the day of said observation, waiting for an administrator to show up, but alas, there wasn't an administrator as far as the eye could see.
I sighed and continued on with my jacked up day.

I rescheduled the observation.
I waited.
I rescheduled the observation again.
I waited again.
I waited for the administrator to reschedule the observation.

I waited.
I waited.
I waited.

Then I rescheduled the observation my damn self.

I, by some sort of miracle, actually get to teach said lesson in front of an administrator.
I watch the administrator shuffle through my filed data, look around my classroom and check her Blackberry instead of listening and, you know, observing.
I sigh.
I continue to teach.

I receive feedback in my mailbox a mere 9 weeks later.
I am distracted by various spelling and grammar errors.
I sigh.
I got an "S".
I sigh again.
I sign the observation report.

I pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.

But back to the article.  The study drew some alarming conclusions.  This one in particular was my favorite:

70 percent of administrators and 30% of teachers think that there are tenured teachers in their building who should be dismissed for poor performance.

Dude, these people are the ones on the news sleeping with their students, and cheating on standardized tests and, I don't know, leaving at 3pm with empty bags, showing up at 8:15am with more empty bags...these are the people making the rest of us look bad.  And by NO MEANS, am I saying or implying that teachers with many years of experience are the ones that are performing poorly.  I believe WHOLE HEARTEDLY that the teachers with the most experience, should often be the most revered and the ones we turn to to help FIX THIS WHOLE MESS.  However,  I also believe that there ARE tenured teachers, young and old, who SUCK A FAT ONE and don't deserve to call themselves teachers.  Yet somehow they still have a job.  Perhaps you are familiar with some of my previous rants? (Click here if you need a refresher on the Human Roadblocks To Student Learning to whom I am referring.)  (Or just buy my book and you'll get the picture.)

The superintendent of the Denver Public Schools concluded the following:

"The report makes clear what we are all too painfully aware of, that virtually every element of our structure on how we retain, recruit, reward, develop and replace teachers if fundamentally misaligned with our goals of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom."

Aaaaannnnd scene.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Teacher Olympics

I'm sitting here, comfortable on my couch with a fire going and my kitty by my side, watching the women's Olympic skiing.  A little honesty here, I am absolutely okay with watching a workout DVD like it is a movie (complete with popcorn and maybe a soda) from deep inside my favorite easy chair.  This is a skill I have been working on for YEARS - we're talking back to the Jane Fonda days in junior high where my girlfriends and I would pay rapt attention from our spots on the couch whilst munching on rice cakes slathered in cream cheese.  We felt as if the rental itself combined with the rice cakes were our nod to fitness.  I think that paints a fairly accurate picture of myself and physical activity.

I am basically horrified, awed, inspired and in disbelief over how hard these women push themselves.  Some are injured (read: should be sitting in a lodge drinking cocoa), some have fallen (read: what were you DOING skiing so fast?!) and all are actually intending to have their skis leave the ground (read: are insane). I mean, these sisters are putting their balls out on the line...there's just no way to sugar coat it.

As you can guess, this makes me start to think about teaching.  Because EVERYTHING makes me think about teaching.  Just ask Mr. Mimi who is at times equal parts annoyed and filled with admiration at my ability to relate all topics back to teaching and/or my classroom.  I think it's just in your blood when you're a teacher, but whatever.

What would be our Olympic events?  The Holding-Your-Pee Super Combined?  (C'mon, you had to know a pee joke was first and foremost on my mind.) The Photocopier Relay? The 1000 Meter Dash to the Ladies/Mens Room?  The Patience Marathon?

I think it would be nice to just have a shiny  medal for some of my accomplishments.  I certainly feel like a loser enough of the time to necessitate and deserve the occasional win.  Where is the silver medal for Dealing With That Super Naughty Boy All Year and Helping Him To Make Crazy Progress? The gold medal for Most Assessments Graded and Turned In On Time Despite Your Personal Belief That Your Time Would Be Better Spent Actually Teaching?  I know I've always said I wanted a cape (because of my belief that all good teachers are truly Super Heroes), but I would totally take a medal.  I also have a sneaking suspicion that a medal might be easier to incorporate into my wardrobe than a cape.  You know, the whole metalics are a neutral thing.

I guess our medals come in the form of notes from our little friends and their parents.  I know I saved those which were the most meaningful to me and taped them up to the inside of my cabinets for my Loser Days.  Was that my trophy case?

Maybe it was.  Well then, here's a sampling from my trophy case.  Go polish yours - they help you get through a rough week (or get your mind ready to go back after a restful vacation).




Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ah, The Elusive Prep

A few people commented on my First Year Tales of Woe yesterday and mentioned preps.  Ah, preps.  Just the thought of them sends me into an emotional tizzy.  If tizzy is even a word that is - Big Mama Mimi uses it, so I figure it has to be legit.

I mean, initially, the thought of a prep brings a smile to my face.  The 45 uninterrupted minutes in my day to furiously check things off my list or perhaps have an inspirational, motivational and overall productive work session with my Super Colleagues.  My inner nerd is practically dancing with joy at the thought.  *sigh*  However, the smile is quickly wiped from my nerdy little face when I think of the reality that is the prep.  Unfortunately, all too often they are not the productive utopias I imagine in my brain.  (Although when they ARE...oh the HEAVEN of it all!!)  The reality is that nine preps out of ten do not belong to you.  In fact, you can practically hear the Powers That Be snickering, "SUCKA!" under their breath as they inform you of all the mandatory (and unproductive) meetings you will have to attend during your so called "prep" period.  Call my crazy, but I always thought "prep" was short for "preparation" not "bullshit time waster," but maybe I'm just not seeing it clearly.  That's right, maybe it IS me.  Because really?  The only "preparation" going on for most of my preps was preparing myself to not leap across the table and strangle someone and/or scream in frustration over the wasted minutes in my day by doing intense amounts of deep breathing.

Now that I think about it, perhaps "prep" really is short for "prepare your patience to be tested" or maybe "prepare the mental list of things you will have to take home with you since you lost your prep."  Yeah, that MUST be it.

As icing on my non-existent prep sundae, I got to deal with colleagues who believed that classroom teacher were "prep hungry" since we tried to switch our free periods on field trip days or, you know, got frustrated from time to time by all the lost time.  Kind of makes you want to scream, right?

But before you click away from this blog, I don't want to leave you with thoughts that make your poor (potentially vacationing) hearts pound.  Because all those jacked up preps?  All those meetings?  All that useless paperwork?  It just makes those mystical, wonderful and uber-productive time with your colleagues that much sweeter when it actually happens.  (And my nerdy little smile is BACK!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Snapped First - Me or the Pencil?

I was just thinking back to my first year of teaching.  Don't ask me why...self torture? Self pity?  Self reflection?  Probably not.  More like mind wandering, but whatever.  I haven't written about those first teaching experiences very often because they were so awful that I try to block them in the interest of saving money on therapy because I prefer to present myself as fabulous.  And friends, I was far from fabulous in my first year.  But who IS fabulous in their first year?  You get shoved into a classroom with more responsibility than you know what to do with and presto!  You're supposed to know exactly what to do at every twist and turn.  If you ask me and nobody did, first year teachers either need intense mentoring or we should have more of an apprenticeship model- you know, where it's not all trial by fire (since really, it's you and the kids that get burned) and filled with tears.  OH THE TEARS!!!

And for some reason that I will never understand, first year teachers always seem to have a completely hellatious, uncontrollable, stand twenty feet away from this child at all times, infamously naughty kid in their class.  I mean, your first year is all survival mode as it is and then you throw in that type of student?  *shouting* "Hey somebody buy me some stock in Kleenex - I hear it's on the rise!"

In my first year, I had yet to develop my love of the Naughty Boy.  Probably because I had yet to learn how to deal with that conundrum that is the Naughty Boy.  Probably because I was busy learning five new curriculums, planning every lesson in minute detail and you know, crying.  Whatevs.

The cross I had to bear child who challenged me in my first year was no joke.  NO JOKE.  I'm talking, I would say this kid's name and older teachers would clutch their heart in fear, gasping with the sheer horror of it all, desperately trying to push memories of this child out of their brain when they'd realize I was standing RIGHT FREAKING THERE and try to recover tactfully.

I knew I was in for it.

I will spare you the insane detail that was the horror of this child.  (Which now I am mature enough to look back and realize that this poor kid was desperately crying out for help.  Help which I alone was not qualified to give...I mean, isn't that reason enough to stop putting the most difficult children in the classes of the least experienced?  That and the size of my therapy bills?)

Needless to say, boyfriend did not do any work.  And by "any work", I mean, if there was a word to describe someone who did less work than no work at all, I would use that word here.  He was too busy drawing graphically violent pictures, throwing math manipulatives at other children, cursing, stealing, and generally making our lives miserable.  (Again, NOW I look back and cringe at my inability to see the signs, but at the time...I. Wanted. To.  Die.)

I did try all the tricks I had in my very small arsenal at the time.  I separated him from the group, put him back with a group of good influences, gave him a partner, isolated him, held him for recess, begged, cried, screamed, reasoned, called his parents, called The Weave, called the Coast Guard ( or at least I would have if I could)...nothing.

One day ONE DAY ONE RIDICULOUS DAY, my friend decides that he wants to do some work.  (Mind you, this is after spending the entire morning tearing his homework packet into teeny tiny shreds, wadding those shreds into wads and using them to a) stick up his nose, b) suck on, c) throw on my floor and/or d) stick up his nose and then snot rocket them out at other children.)  So what does he do?  He steals a pencil from the nearest unsuspecting child, who was actually using it at the time.  When said child shouted in protest, he got stabbed.  With his own pencil.

Can you see why I routinely locked myself in a closet and had a good cry and possibly fantasized about a career at Papyrus?  I bet nobody blows snot rockets with $25 stationary.

Boyfriend then gets out of his seat, and begins to run around the classroom stealing pencils from anyone and everyone.  In a moment of sheer insanity in which I had totally lost my teacher cool, my hanging on by a thread teacher cool, I shouted,

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING????" at the top of my lungs.
"I want to get my work done like you always say I should and I don't have a pencil."
"TODAY you want to do work?  TODAY?  Well then...allow me!"

(It gets worse.)

I then walked around the classroom, collecting pencils from all the children who looked at me like I was batshit crazy.  (Which, duh, I was.) I held out the array of writing implements to my friend and said, "Pick any one you like, because if YOU want to DO WORK TODAY OF ALL DAYS, be our guest!"

He looked at me, probably recognizing that I had hit rock bottom and may be seconds from jumping out the window.  And even though he drove me to the very edges of my sanity, I don't think that's what he was after.  So he took a pencil, went back to his seat and actually did some work.

I wish I could tell you that this story ended in a neat little bow and from that day on, my friend completed all his work on time.  But I can't.  We battled for the remainder of the year - him because he didn't know what else to do and me because I didn't know what else to do either.  We were both alone, unsupported and totally frustrated beyond belief.

And yet, year after year, with a very "sink or swim, honey" attitude we continue the tradition of sticking the most troubled with the least prepared.  Then we wonder why things don't seem to get better...

(insert Debbie Downer music here)
 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sometimes Bigger IS Better

Man, do I need to get me some focus!  Maybe it's baby brain, maybe it's being insanely bored with  my dissertation topic, maybe it's not being in a classroom filled with the energy of small people.  Whatever it is, I find myself distractedly clicking on anything all things shopping.  It's like I'm on some kind of epic quest to spend money or something.  Like I'm in withdrawal from the madness that was holiday spending.  Like I can fit in regular clothes.  Like I don't have a mountain of things that I will have to buy soon  enough for the soon-to-arrive Mini Mimi.  Like I can afford it.

So I rationalized.  Because I'm good at that.  I rationalized that it's been awhile since I've posted something deliciously and organizationally nerdy and therefore I needed to spend time online browsing.  NEEDED TO.  I mean it's been at least a few weeks since I showed you the ways of these folders.  (Hello lovers...)

Oxford 8-Pocket Organizer Folder - MulticolorCarolina Pad "Hot Chocolate" 8-Pocket Organizational Folders, 6-Count, 2 Each of 3 Designs, 20621Carolina Pad Eye Candy 8-Pocket Organizational Folders, Assorted Designs, 9.75 inch x 11.25 inch, 6 Count (25520)

Or introduced to the wonder that is the retractable dry erase marker.


Expo Click Retractable Low Odor Fine Tip Dry Erase Markers, 6 Fashion Color Markers (1751667)Expo Click Retractable Low Odor Chisel Tip Dry Erase Markers, 12 Black Markers

Or rocked your socks off (or at least my socks were rocked) by the introduction of the Stainless Steel Sharpie to our hearts and lives.

Sharpie Stainless Steel Fine Point Permanent Marker (1747388)

And then I saw these.  And I was all, "What the deuce?  Are these?  Could it be?"

Jumbo Stick-It Notes

JUMBO POST IT NOTES!!!

JUMBO, people!  They are roughly 12 inches x 12 inches - so smaller than your sticky chart paper but bigger OH SO MUCH BIGGER than a regular Post It.  The possibilities feel endless.  I think I may immediately purchase these and post reminders to myself around the house about HOW BADLY I JUST NEED TO GRADUATE.

But I'm also fantasizing about my classroom.  I'm imagining impromptu and moveable word walls, interactive math problems that can be easily moved around the classroom, directions for centers, reminders for my more forgetful friends...

Dissertation what?

On each glorious pad, there are 80 (yes I said EIGHTY!) sticky notes.  At least now my mind is wandering away from the amazing sales at JCrew and over to the possibilities...all those endless possibilities.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vacation Station

Well, you made it!  Either you are about to enjoy a long weekend in honor of Presidents Past or you are about to settle into a glorious whole week of winter break.  Aaaahhhhh!  (My apologies in advance to those of you who lost vacation days due to a hideous number of snow days.  But I'm thinking that maybe you're dying to be back IN your classrooms and are desperately trying to get caught up...my heart goes out to you.)

Do you know one of the things I miss most about being in the classroom?  Besides my friends of course, who I am missing quite a bit these days.  Ironically, for someone who misses their little faces so much,  I also miss that second after the last friend has been dismissed and the last errant sweater has been retrieved from the classroom.  That second where you walk back upstairs to your classroom and feel free as a bird!  You walk down the hall to cheers erupting from various classrooms as other colleagues celebrate making it through the last few ridiculously hard weeks.  Maybe there is a moderate amount of adult high-fiving...it really depends on your school.

Most teachers return to their classrooms after this Walk of Glory and have two reactions.

Some teachers dash around like crazy people, gathering up piles of To Dos and straightening up a bit before running, LITERALLY RUNNING out the door to get ahead of traffic/catch the early train.  They may or may not get their enormous Teacher Bags stuck in doors and/or have been known accidentally take out a kid or two in the process.  These teachers want to get the hell out of Dodge.  (I never really understood that phrase, but I think it fits nicely here.  Although I'm unsure about capitalizing the word Dodge...)  I imagine that these teachers are heading directly to some sort of happy hour.  No stopping at Go, no collecting $200, just straight to the bar.

Other teachers saunter into their rooms, luxuriating in the idea that they can get everything done before they walk out the door, leaving their rooms uber-prepared for the return of those people who are constantly making a mess of the classroom the children.  They can be seen happily crossing things off their To Do Lists and packing a modest pile of work to bring home with them.  (Because no matter which type of teacher you are, you almost NEVER go home with an empty bag.  Now, that doesn't mean we actually TOUCH what is in our bags, but that is another post for another day.)  I always worry a bit for this teacher because, after a vacation in which rooms are usually "deep cleaned", you never know what condition your classroom will be in when you return.  Coming back to total disarray can certainly ruin your Post Vacation Buzz, but I digress.

I have been both of those teachers.  I guess it really depends on the week you've had leading up to said break.  Either way, who cares, YOU'VE GOT A DAY (OR FIVE) OFF!

Oh and have a drink for me.  I miss them.

P.S. And don't forget that Teach Hub is giving away $100 gift certificates for spa days (click here and scroll down)....could be a hot way to maintain that positive attitude...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is That Puke? Yeah, It's Time For Vacation...

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you are probably familiar with the Legend of the Seat Sack which is really just a story of how my school prioritized new seat sacks complete with embroidered mascot over paper.  You know, 'cuz in this digital age, who needs paper?  Wait what?  Our classroom only has four computers?  And three of them work?  Hm...maybe we should rethink that whole paper thing after all.  I never thought I'd see the day when wanting a ream of paper for my friend would make me seem old school.

Regardless.  We got the seat sacks.  And yes, they were lovely...however, perhaps they weren't the investment that the Powers That Be thought they might have been.  They certainly were destined to only get one use. I understand that you could say the same thing about paper, but to me, the idea of teaching without paper is SIMPLY RIDICULOUS.

Within a few months (I would say by this time of year) the seat sacks were stained in marker, pencil shavings and assorted childhood goo.  Some friends had sneaked in time to add a little personal flair to their seat sack by cutting a nifty border with their scissors.  (You know, before I freaked out patiently informed them that the seat sack was not theirs to keep and would indeed be passed on to another child the following year.)  Basically, they were living science experiments and I had vowed never to actually stick my hand in one ever ever again.  (Long story.)

So, by the time February vacation rolled around, the seat sacks were looking a little worse for wear.  I guess you could say the same thing about the rest of us too.  It always seems that everyone gets sick right before a vacation too.  It's like their little bodies can sense the impending time off and want to make sure they have an opportunity to pass the germs around before we all get a break from one another.  Because sharing is caring.

One of my Super Colleagues has a particularly sick child who probably should have stayed the hell home but that would be common sense now, wouldn't it? who was looking particularly green.  When said child jumped out of his seat and began to run out of the classroom, she didn't even question it.  You only have to see a kid hurl in the corner of your classroom once and you will remember that urgent look forever. Run like the wind, sweetheart!  However, her little friend did not make it out the door.  Rather he stopped short, turned and puked INTO the seat sack of another child.  I'm fairly certain the recipient was traumatized, not to mention the fact that her white board and marker were ruined.

At lunch, my Super Colleague shared the story with the rest of us inspiring the rest of us to spend the remainder of the day counting down the hours.   I mean  you know it's over when the sick kid pukes, right?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SNOW DAY!!!!!

I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone in the world has a snow day today. Okay, maybe not everyone in the world, but if you live in the tri-state area or anywhere in the mid-Atlantic states, you are hopefully just getting up, sipping some coffee and reveling in your snow day. (Unless, of course, this is your billionth snow day THIS YEAR...If this is the case for you, sorry for the Snow Day Clusterf*ck because there is a point where snow days no longer warrant high fives, inside out pajamas and prayers before bedtime. At that point, enough is enough.)

Regardless - NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS GOT A SNOW DAY, Y'ALL! We had ONE last year and that precious day was the first snow day called in FIVE YEARS! And don't be fooled, that doesn't mean NYC hasn't gotten heinous amounts of snow, it just means we, the teachers, have trudged to work in all sorts of conditions like we had taken the oath of the postal service or something.

But, NYC teachers just didn't 'get a snow day'.  They got a snow day that was called the DAY BEFORE! Which means there was time for extensive Snow Day Preparations. By Snow Day Preparations, you may think I'm referring to something involving the children, however, I'm not. I'm referring to a moment where a teacher can revel in indulging HERSELF or HIMSELF (for once) by going to the grocery store on the way home to buy delicious treats for the next day (picture grilled cheese for lunch, friends...and maybe some soup NOT from a can), renting copious amounts of movies (you know, all the ones we missed when they were in the theaters because we ritualistically drag home enormous piles of work that consume our free time),  turning OFF their alarm clocks and (gasp) perhaps choosing a book to read for pleasure.

The luxury!

Now I recognize that making the call to cancel school is a big decision. There are a ton of factors to consider, one of which is the infuriating fact that weather men (and women) love to hyper-predict storms of biblical proportions. Like a few weeks ago, when we were supposed to get DUMPED on and nothing happened. I actually had Snow Envy because I had worked myself up into a Snow Day Frenzy. I mean, one could conceivably declare a snow day and have no actual snow fall which then makes one look kind of like a douche, right? HOWEVER, this is not the ONLY way that the Keeper of the Snow Day can look like a flaming douche, friends. No, not at all.

Pause for a moment and remember this lovely moment brought to us by the NYC Department of Education just a mere year ago.

Setting: A snowy morning. 5 a.m. (Yes, 5 a.m.- that's when I had to get up.) Teachers all over the tri-state areas sit in the dark, squinting at the bottom of their TVs, waiting for their school's name or district to pop up on that oh-so-mystical scrolly thing. BECAUSE SEEING THE SNOW OUTSIDE THE WINDOW WAS NOT ENOUGH CONSIDERING WE HAD NOT HAD A SNOW DAY IN FIVE YEARS DESPITE COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF ACTUAL SNOW.

5:30 a.m. Nothing.
Me: (to my cat) Are you insane? It's like totally blizzarding out there.

5:35 a.m. Nothing.
Me: Crap. I have to get in the shower or I'm going to be late. This is ridiculous.
Turns off TV and goes upstairs.

6:05 a.m. Cell phone rings.
Me: (fully dressed and about to put on my coat...I can be fast when I want to be) Are you kidding me? We don't have school today? Are you SURE?

6:15 a.m. Back in bed.

That day, the day of the Late Snow Day Call, teachers and parents everywhere were furious because they had a) left for school already b) had no time to make other day care arrangements and c) HAD LEFT FOR SCHOOL ALREADY.

When the Keeper of The Snow Day was questioned as to why he waited so DAMN LONG to call the snow day despite the mountains of snow outside the window, he responded with something like this:

"If you looked out your window and saw all that snow and didn't think there was a snow day, I can't help you. And if you don't know the ways in which to find that type of information, maybe you NEED another day in school."

Oh no he di-in't!!

But yes he did. Don't believe me. Click here.  

Please keep in mind that there had not been a snow day for five years and, despite the fact that he said, "Snow day!" at 5:35 ish in the morning does not mean that the message was instantaneously delivered round the world or to people who were busy getting themselves or their children ready.

I mean, if that's not a way to win over the potential votes of parents and teachers everywhere, I don't know what is.

So enjoy today friends. Luxuriate in the early call, the turned off alarm clocks and the grilled cheeses of your day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hypocritical Times

Today I was at the library researching childbirth classes dutifully dissertating and maybe looking at maternity clothes online but whatever when I heard somebody's cell phone ring. Loudly. And repeatedly.

As I am currently missing the classroom pretty hard core, I glanced around ready to shoot someone my best Teacher Look. I figure it's like a foreign language - if I don't use it, I'll lose it. (And so I use it at every opportunity...watch out for me at Stop and Shop!)

However, someone had beat me to it and taken my plan of flashing a well placed Teacher Look to a whole new level. A rude level. A level in which it is appropriate to give another person an intensely dirty look while simultaneously mouthing the words, "what the f*ck?" I shit you not. Even I, who enjoys the use of colorful language from time to time, would not dare. So I tucked my Teacher Look back into my pocket for another day and went back to online shopping work.

AND THEN....

another cell phone ruptures the productive silence. I quickly fix my face into the perfect Teacher Look, ready to beat out Rude Guy McCurses-In-Public, when I noticed it was Rude Guy's freaking cell phone. AAAAANNNNNDDDDD....he decided to TAKE THE CALL AND TAKE IT LOUDLY.

Perhaps it was a big middle finger aimed at the previous offender (who I might add, quickly silenced her phone and looked a satisfying amount of sheepish) or perhaps he is actually Hipocrtical Guy McCurses-In-Public.

And do you know what all of this reminded me of, friends? The day to day hypocracy that some teachers choose to embrace with a ferver I reserve for well, actual teaching and....shoes, but that's another story. Anyhow, I'm sure you all know who I'm talking about. That Preachy Preaches A Lot Teacher who doesn't actually practice what they preach.

An example or two:

Mrs. Do What I Say, Not What I Do - This is the teacher who, during a fire drill, SCREAMS at her class to BE QUIET. If screaming at children to make them zip their lip isn't hypocracy enough for you, this is also the same teacher who then turns to a nearby colleague and engages in a loud conversation. About nothing. Clearly embracing the Do What I Say Not What I Do school of thought, this teacher's class can be seen exchanging glances that reek of "WTH?" while observing said behavior on the part of their teacher. As the cherry on her hypocritcal sundae, this teacher is also known for standing up during staff meetings and complaining about how loud the last fire drill was in her opinion. (Insert incredulous staring of entire staff here.)

Ms. Breaks the School Rules When She Feels Like It Hypocritson- Ah, Ms. Hypocritson enjoys blatantly disregarding the laws of school traffic flow. Despite clearly labeled stairwells marked UP and DOWN, this teacher insists on walking her class UP the DOWN side every morning, claiming that she hates waiting to get started with her day. *coughing* Bullshit! (Was that out loud?) Her class, high on the disregard for school rules, shoots "check us out sucka!" looks at all the children dutifully following behind their rule abiding teachers. This combination makes for a great lesson in following rules, especially when the children throwing looks are older students usually reserved for setting an example. From time to time, Ms. Hypocritson can also be seen RUNNING UP the DOWN side, but just on those extra special days when she feels like giving the rest of us a little bit extra "suck it" with our coffee.

Mr. No Apparent Regard For His Own Schedule Von Nasty Note Leaver- These are a rare breed of hypocrite. Typically someone who is responsible for either Push In or Pull Out services (and therefore needs to go around to various classrooms following a schedule every day), this individual thrives on NEVER BEING ON TIME. In fact, they are typically ten minutes late to arrive and either leave your classroom or drop your students off ten minutes early. With periods that last approximately 45 minutes, that's only 25 minutes of actual instructional time not counting travel time. I know, sweet, right? Cuz those kids totally don't need extra support - their IEPs are just for ha has. However, what makes this breed of hypocrite truly special is their BRAZEN BALLSINESS. (Is that even a word? Should it be spelled "ballsyness"? Am afraid to type it into a search engine to check...) You see, on the rare occasion that YOU are not where you are supposed to be (your classroom) because of an assembly, a field trip or some other educationally related purpose and you (call the police!) forget to write a note and stick it to the door because, oh, I don't know, you're busy managing TWENTY OTHER PEOPLE, there is hell to pay in the form of a NASTY NOTE STUCK TO YOUR DOOR FOR ALL TO SEE. Usually this note includes words such as "unprofessional", "lack of respect for my time" and "in the future I expect you to" which only serve to a) make it even better when you read it out loud at lunch for a few laughs or b) make your heart rate sky rocket...you know, depending on the kind of day you're having.

Is it weird that I still miss it?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Now THERE'S a Finger Snapper!

Today I was at the library procrastinating taking a break from my dissertation to stay up on current events in education. A girl can't let herself get stale you know.

I was immediately drawn to an article with the title, "Students show progress with new reading." Natch, I had to click and read more because who wouldn't want the answer to the age old question of "how the hell can I better serve my students?" Plus, the article was about advancements in education from my home state of CT - so I had to give a shout out.

Although, after reading the article, what I shouted out was, "Well DUH!" To which many people replied with shushing and dirty looks.

Basically, what I can get from the article is that this school is showing significant gains in student reading as a result of a 45-minute daily "RX" period. Instruction during this "RX" period is individualized, based on student needs and monitored every two weeks so that the prescription stays up to date. If a child needs help decoding, they get help decoding until they show improvement. If a child needs help with comprehension skills, they get help with those specific comprehension skills until they show improvement. Granted, it sounds as if this reading program uses a set of potentially prescriptive paths for each child once they are "diagnosed" which is an idea I don't love because it makes the process of learning how to read look far too...scientific. So perhaps this RX business isn't the solution to the problem of illiteracy, but still, the idea behind it seems to be that instruction is tailored to the needs of individual children and who can argue with that premise?

The article then makes the incredibly obvious powerful statement that "Not 1 size fits all."

And I'm all, "Wait, where's the innovation?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the teachers in this scenario AT ALL. I think it's great that they are able to tailor their instruction to the needs of each child rather than have someone tell them that if they stand on one foot and hop in place thirty times, their students will learn how to read. Guar-an-teed! Or your money back!

Now maybe this RX program thingy is a horribly scripted reading program and I'm just not getting that from the article. Because from where I'm standing, it sounds like teachers were finally given the green light to do what they know is best for their students. The article wasn't exactly clear on this point and after a quick Google search, all I was able to find was a bunch of links to places that help people understand their actual medical prescriptions. You know, which is important TOO just...

WHERE IS THE INNOVATION IN ALL THIS? Where is the tidbit that I can take away and pass along to my Super Colleagues. Because although this is true, and although I believe whole heartedly that there doesn't exist a one-sized-fits-all approach to teaching anything that will actually teach all children, the ability to do what we think is best for our children isn't always an option. You see, with all the scripted curriculums, excessive paperwork and obsession with testing, doing what we think is right for our children becomes harder if not downright impossible.

But perhaps, to those in the media, or really anyone outside the classroom who has been bombarded with images of idiotic teachers who deserve the blame for every aspect of the educational system that is currently in crisis, the idea of simply letting a teacher do her job IS innovative.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Before You Poke Yourself In The Eye...

(Despite a bit of what one might call a liberal use of choice words, this post is really meant to warm the cockles of your heart. Seriously.) (Am I the only one laughing at the word "cockles?") (I mean, have you ever heard anyone say, "Geez, I think I need to go see the doctor. My heart cockles are feeling funny"?)

Oh man, is it FEBRUARY or what?!

It's cold, it's gray, there's probably way too much indoor recess going on (which results in too many horrific afternoons) and those days where you just want to pop in a movie and sit quietly in the back of your classroom and, I don't know, file things quietly, are happening WAY too often.

PLUS, in addition to your friends being all antsy, and crazy and UNABLE TO SIT STILL AND FOCUS, February is always the time where it feels like the pressure is ON. And not in a "I have so much to do!" way but in a "Holy sh*t! How is it February already and I haven't even started the unit on (insert topic here)! And what am I going to do about so-and-so's reading?? Wait, are those more papers I have yet to correct over there?!?" way.

Throw in the whole Snow Day Clusterf*ck and you've got yourself a real reason to want to poke yourself in the eye.

(For those of you not in the Wonderful World of Teaching, a Snow Day Clusterf*ck translates loosely to the collision of two competing realities for teachers in various parts of the country based on their respective weather patterns. On one hand, you have teachers who have had SO MANY snow days that they are literally sweating a little over the prospect of having to make up all those days and have now reworked their lesson plans and schedules for the ho-jillionth time in order to accomodate all those days off. Honestly, their plan books are so littered with arrows, post it notes and cross outs that they more closely resemble the part of movies where they show the serial killers bedroom that is filled with all sorts of creepy clippings and notes than they do actual plans for children. On the other hand, you have teachers who have had mountains of snow dumped upon them yet their schools REFUSE TO CALL A SNOW DAY most likely because they work in a city and their students are able to walk to school. Unfortunately, this means ritualistic waking a dawn to listen to the news to watch that little scrolly thing at the bottom of the TV only to routinely be enraged disappointed that they have school, but now they're running late because they were watching the freaking television instead of getting ready and will probably get to work with seconds to spare because of all the treachery. Once these teachers get themselves to school, they find that at least 1/3 of their students are absent - again, because of the treachery that should have caused school to be canceled or at least delayed in the first place - and realize that they have to alter their plans since teaching new content on a day with so many absences is really just shooting yourself in the slush covered snow boot that totally ruins your outfit foot. Don't you think the term "Snow Day Clusterf*ck" sums all that up quite nicely?)

Again, you can see where the desire to do some eye poking comes in, yes?

And then you start to feel bad because teaching is really one big roller coaster of emotion and you know that you've been less than perky in front of your friends. Or maybe you feel like you aren't as well planned as you should be. Or maybe you're feeling like that lesson on rocks totally could have gone better. Which leads to wondering whether or not you're cut out for this job at all. Which leads to wondering if you're little friends are going to remember all these frantic moments. Which leads to something I like to call a Shame Spiral. Shame Sprialing is bad.

So if you are mid-Shame Spiral, or really, in those very early stages of Shame Spiraling, know this. At the end of the year, most kids will only remember the fun times, how much you loved them and all that they learned. They won't think about the homework papers you never got around to grading, or the time that lesson blew up in your face, or that you left one of their art projects abandoned and unfinished in the back of the classroom because sometimes you bite off more than your schedule can chew in the project department.

They will have memories that sound like this:

(I took the liberty of going through notes from my former friends since you probably have very similar notes, but no time to actually look at them in these moments o' crisis otherwise known as February.)

"I will miss the silly sentence board, because it was so silly. I will miss my job because it is fun to have a job. I will miss Mrs. M because she was the best."

"I'll miss Mrs. M. because she is the best teacher a kid could have. I'll miss the class because it is so colorful."

"I love when I have a classroom job."

"I'm going to miss Mrs. M. and my friends because they treat me good. And I am good to my teacher."

"I will miss all the things we did because I love writing and reading so much."

And then AND THEN PEOPLE, when you are true rock star (which I know you all are) like Big Mama Mimi is, you get an email, out of the blue, that sounds something like this:

"I'm not sure if you remember me, but I was in your class from 1996-1997. At that point I was best friends with So-and-So, and we begged you to put us in the same class for the following year. Well, all these years later, he is still my best friend, and we both just graduated from college.

A few weeks ago we were discussing our grade school days, and how much we enjoyed you and your class. I hope this does not come off as weird to you, but we were both wondering if you
would be willing to meet us for lunch sometime. I can assure you we will not try to sell you anything or insist you pay (a joke, we both have jobs), we are just looking to catch up. Both of us have aspirations of leaving this state in the near future, and this is one of the things we wanted to do before moving."

And I die.

So put the pencil down, take a deep breath and know that you will get through February. So will your friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Betty Bought Butter, But the Butter Was BITTER..." (Or Wait...Maybe I'm Just Bitter)

I'd say we're about halfway through the year, no? One might even refer to this as a "midpoint" or "mid year" or the "middle of the school year." All those terms would be accurate. And if one was giving, let's say, a midyear assessment, this would be the time of year they would considering administering said test, right? I mean, perhaps the "mid year assessment" which is to be completed mid way through the year doesn't have to be given on exactly day number 90, but, you know, somewhere close. Somewhere logical. I, for one, always gave midyear assessments in the first couple of weeks of February before vacation. That way, I could take a couple of days of my vacation (That's right, I said, "TAKE A COUPLE OF DAYS OF MY VACATION," to all you people out there who are about to poo-poo our glorious vacations.) to analyze the results, make small groups and adjust my instruction accordingly. You know, because I rocked. And because doing it this way was a billion times easier than trying to get all that work, thinking, list making and planning done in my classroom since someone had apparently installed a revolving door that people I considered Wastes of Time loved to use freely.

(Mrs. Mimi got her bitter back. You know, to balance out all the touchy feely stuff. I have RANGE, people!)

Why am I making such a big deal out of the middle of the year you ask? Because I was staring blankly at my computer screen waiting for my dissertation to write itself allowing my mind to wander down memory lane, thinking about what I would be doing if I was in my classroom right now. And then I remembered this little gem of a story...

These days, schools are obsessed with data. School systems are also filled with people who don't come in contact with children, have never taught a child and whose job description may or may not be deemed as necessary by people like us. You know, teachers? Put those two things together and viola! You get mandates for teachers to test test test the daylights out of children all so someone can shake a paper, hold up some numbers and say, "See?!? Look what I did!" When really, what have they done? But that's another post for another day.

You may be thinking, "This Mrs. Mimi person has some balls? How can she just make accusations like that??"

Because friends, I have seen this point in action. Last year, the Bacon Hunter proved my point like a true champion.

You see, last year, the midyear came and went. So, I happily gave my own (useful, teacher created, thoughtful) assessments and considered myself lucky to have bypassed all the other crap. I figured, "Hey, let's just let sleeping dogs lie." and kept my mouth shut. After all, I can't be expected to do everyone's job, now can I?

And then it was May. What one might refer to as the end of the year. The final portion of the school year. Our last few weeks together. Time to wrap things up. However, you want to phrase it, it is pretty undeniably THE END (as is evidenced by increasingly hyper children who spend their private reading time gazing out the window at all that sunshine and teachers who begin packing up their classroom a month early).

In rare form, the Bacon Hunter swept into our team meeting one day and declared, "You need to give the mid year assessment this week!"

To which we replied, "WTF?"

JUST KIDDING! That part was in our heads. I meant to write, to which we replied, "Uh, come again?"

(dropping stacks of TEN PAGE assessments on our desks) "You MUST give the mid year assessment this week!" (And BOOM! went the stack of papers as they crashed into my desk or maybe that was the sound of my patience finally giving out...)

"Um, I mean call me crazy, but shouldn't we be giving some sort of final assessment instead?"

"You will be, in two weeks." (More enormous stacks of paper are now dropped in front of us as rain forests everywhere wept from the sheer devastation. Or wait, was I crying?)

(I'll pause here so that you can pull yourself together. I know I needed a moment.)

"So you're saying that we're giving a TEN PAGE mid year assessment, followed by a TWELVE PAGE final assessment just two weeks later?"

"Yes." (Boom! The papers crushed me to my very teacher soul.)

And guess who got to correct all those little gems? (You are the big winner if you guessed ME and MY SPARE TIME.)

Maybe I need to go back to school and take another class (Wait a minute...) but I always thought that the point of assessing children was to get a snapshot of their current learning so that you could adjust future instruction. Here was the reason we were given. Cuz, you know, we asked.

"I just need to have all this data on file. End of discussion."

AHAHAHHHHHHH! On FILE! Of course! It needs to be ON FILE! Well, that sounds totally valid. We have drawers to fill people! Gear up those number two pencils!!

So my little friends, dreaming about fun in the sun, were subjected to four days (because that's how long it takes to get though TWENTY TWO PAGES of math test) of testing. At least two of which were totally, utterly and wholly unnecessary. And all because they needed to learn that valuable lesson...that lesson written of in Mother Goose rhymes and Aesop's Fables...you know the one I'm talking about, right? Say it with me now, "Good boys and girls go to school and pay attention so that one day they can pass a test." Lesson learned.

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